by Janet Hadley
If you've been in employment for a decade or more, chances are you've witnessed a seismic shift in well-being provision during your working life. In my early career during the late 1990s, the words' depression' and 'anxiety' were spoken only in whispers and, generally, as a precursor to someone quietly exiting the business.
Employers should be celebrated for their contribution to the destigmatisation of mental health conditions and the provision of safe spaces where people have been able to talk more openly about their struggles without fear of judgement. More recently, employers have once again demonstrated that the workplace is a perfect setting to educate people about once-taboo topics that affect large proportions of the population, with the rise in the provision of services around menopause awareness, fertility and baby loss.
It's not just the employees who benefit, of course. Research by Deloitte indicates that employers return £5 for every £1 spent on mental health. With the latest data showing workplace absence at an all-time high, with anxiety and depression topping the table of reasons for long-term sickness, it's perhaps surprising that employers have been slow to connect the dots between alcohol use and well-being.
AN ELEPHANT IN THE WELL-BEING ROOM
In my own career, I've been to dozens of well-being sessions provided by my employer. I learned about physical health, mental health, financial well-being, mindfulness, yoga, nutrition, sleep hygiene – you name it, I did it. Yet I lived for years under a fog of anxiety and borderline depression, feeling physically exhausted and struggling to really enjoy life.
It wasn't until I decided to remove alcohol from my life that things changed for me. Within weeks, I began to feel more sparkly. I slept better, made better food choices and felt more optimistic. As the months passed, the benefits continued to stack up. My skin cleared up, my digestion issues disappeared, my clothes fit better, even my hair was looking bouncier. I felt more comfortable in my own skin, more confident. A sense of self-esteem emerged that had been missing for decades. For the first time in my adult life, I simply felt well – inside and out.
My only regret? Not ditching the booze sooner. I was shocked at the impact it had on my overall health and well-being. So, I wondered, why had no one told me? Reflecting back on all the wellness activities I'd taken part in, there wasn't a single suggestion anywhere in any of the sessions provided that indicated that alcohol might be the spanner in the well-being works.
With hindsight, it seems obvious that you can't out-yoga half a bottle of wine a night. But as a drinker, I was completely blind to this and might even have found it rather confronting if it had been suggested.
So how should employers effectively tackle this taboo topic in order to reach others who, like me, might never have considered that alcohol could be holding them back from reaching their full potential?
THE TEETOTAL TASTING EXPERIENCE
Having worked with dozens of employers to help them reset their alcohol culture, I believe that organising a Teetotal Tasting Experience is one of the most engaging and fun ways to provide that spark of inspiration to the sober curious. It works particularly well as an alternative to a night at the pub, attracting a much more diverse crowd and creating a long-standing and memorable experience.
At Choose Sunrise, we partner with The Alcohol-Free Events Company to provide comprehensive services for employers, such as the events we've run this year for a major building society, a major retailer, a law firm, and a recruitment consultancy.
A carefully curated selection of alcohol-free drinks is served, and local producers are invited to share the story behind their artisan brands. The drink sampling is interspersed with our own 'Teetotal Tales', where we share our own journeys to sobriety and the tips we've learned along the way. We provide tasting notes and score sheets to help people choose their new favourite tipple, and we always include a 'pub quiz' covering the latest data on alcohol consumption, with a few surprising facts and figures thrown in to educate and inspire people to question their preconceptions about how an emerging alcohol use issue might present itself.
The result is a gentle and fun introduction to a topic that can be confronting and taboo and a night out that everyone can remember.
EVENT FOLLOW UP
After the events, we provide 'Ask Me Anything' sessions to employees, offering confidential support and signposting to anyone who wants to find out more but feels that they cannot ask their employer. Safeguarding is critically important, and our coaches are trained in delivering brief interventions, ensuring that the advice given is appropriate.
For the employer, we provide an anonymised summary of the topics that have been discussed, enabling the senior leadership team to get insight into the issues that people in their organisation are battling. It's an eye-opening experience for many board members when they read about issues that would normally stay behind closed doors.
With 20% of people choosing not to drink alcohol at all and three out of four adults saying that they are moderating their alcohol intake to some extent, the days of the free bar as the go-to reward for employers are numbered. Employers who promote booze-fuelled functions as the only way to socialise are judged as outdated and unattractive by Gen Z, who are just entering the workforce. In order to attract and retain the top new talent, it's time for employers to take a long, hard look at the culture of alcohol use in their organisations, the message that employees are getting from the top management teams, and the way that alcohol is used in social situations. Employers that get this right will attract and retain a more diverse pool of talent, as well as reduce their risks around incidents, accidents and grievances.
So, next time you're organising the workplace social, why not consider hosting a teetotal tasting experience for a night that everyone can remember?
Download a free guide to running a sober inclusive event: https://choosesunrise.co.uk/events
Are you an alcohol-free or sober curious business owner? Join our Sober Business Network at https://network.choosesunrise.co.uk/join.
ABOUT JANET HADLEY
Keynote speaker, senior business leader, amateur pianist, and mum to three teenagers, Janet Hadley founded Choose Sunrise to end the stigma surrounding alcohol addiction. Their workplace accreditation programme supports employers in creating an Alcohol Safe Workplace® without killing the buzz.